Catch the Wind | History
This first step required lots of research with scientists, Museum staff and visitor focus groups to gather exhibit ideas. No matter how promising, every idea faced the same two tests: were they interesting — and durable? “Most of the Catch the Wind exhibits are one-of-a-kind designs. We couldn’t just order them off the shelf; we had to figure out how to make them work, and work outdoors,” says Griffiths.
In a few cases, that proved impossible. The site doesn’t get enough wind to build a wind turbine, for example. “We did our own study by setting up an anemometer (an instrument that measures wind) at the exhibit site and going up daily to download the data for over a year,” remembers Exhibits Development Coordinator Traci Connor. WRAL meteorologist Greg Fishel contributed wind data from other years for comparison.
The exhibit development team tested remote-controlled sailboats with visitors at Duke Gardens on still days. The sailboats worked with very little wind — and they turned out to be very popular. On Father’s Day in Catch the Wind, every sailboat steering station was occupied by a Dad. “It’s wonderful,” notes Connor. “We want the museum to be a place where adults play and explore, too!”
The Seed Tower, which drops model seeds from 30 feet in the air, is a staff favorite. “After working on the maple seeds, I began seeing them everywhere,” says Exhibits Development Manager Elizabeth Fleming. "Watching kids get excited about the seed tower is cool — and adults have a personal connection because they remember playing with maple seeds when they were children.”
The Museum works with outside experts to confirm what works and to identify improvements. A team of accessibility advisors tested the prototypes and suggested including audio labels throughout, and tactile, large-scale models at the Seed Tower. Museum exhibit evaluators from Inverness Research Associates have also observed and interviewed visitors at Catch the Wind. The evaluators saw visitors “having engaging, hands-on and minds-on experiences.” And they report that the visitors say, “I could have spent all day here,” and “We’ll be back to do it again!”